American Gothic on Skid Row

In decades past, it was a common dig at the middle-brow culture of Los Angeles to snipe that the town was chock full of Iowans–dishwater dull, prudish and constantly picnicking.

It’s true enough that many a midwestern retiree was convinced by California’s “land of sunshine” reputation to spend their last years here. But you might not know that there’s a very special connection that exists between rural Iowa and L.A.’s Skid Row–a bond that’s put food into hungry mouths for more than two decades. 

Nan Wood Graham, the sister of painter Grant Wood, was the tight-lipped female subject of his 1930 painting American Gothic. The house behind her still stands in tiny Eldon, Iowa

And since Nan’s death, every licensing fee for reproduction of her brother’s masterpiece has been split between the Union Rescue Mission and the Riverside County Coalition for Alternatives to Domestic Violence. Our friends at the URM tell us that this income is not inconsiderable. 

So think of Nan’s kindness next time you see American Gothic reproduced or parodied. We surely will.

Published by


Kim Cooper

Kim Cooper is the creator of 1947project, the crime-a-day time travel blog that spawned Esotouric’s popular crime bus tours, including The Real Black Dahlia. She is the author of The Kept Girl, the acclaimed historical mystery starring the young Raymond Chandler and the real-life Philip Marlowe, and of The Raymond Chandler Map of Los Angeles. With husband Richard Schave, Kim curates the Salons and forensic science seminars of LAVA- The Los Angeles Visionaries Association. When the third generation Angeleno isn’t combing old newspapers for forgotten scandals, she is a passionate advocate for historic preservation of signage, vernacular architecture and writer’s homes. Kim was for many years the editrix of Scram, a journal of unpopular culture. Her books include Fall in Love For Life, Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth, Lost in the Grooves and an oral history of Neutral Milk Hotel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *